President Joe Biden on Monday announced plans to award Medals of Honor to four soldiers for actions in the Vietnam War, fully recognizing the courage and heroism they showed during the fight there.
Three of the four men will attend a White House ceremony on July 5 to receive the medals. The fourth — Staff Sgt. Edward N. Kaneshiro — was killed during fighting in Vietnam and will be honored posthumously. Family members will be present to accept his honors.
All four men had previously been given other military awards for their actions, and were the subject of speculation about an upgrade to the military’s highest battlefield honor in recent years.
Kaneshiro served as an infantry squad leader with the 1st Cavalry Division in the Kim Son Valley in December 1966. His unit was ambushed by North Vietnamese forces while on a search and destroy mission in the village of Phu Huu 2.
Army officials said Kaneshiro destroyed one enemy group with rifle fire and two others with grenades, enabling his men to withdraw from the area safely. He served four more months in the country until he was killed by hostile gunfire on March 6, 1967.
Spc. 5th Class Dwight W. Birdwell was serving with the 25th Infantry Division a year later when his heroism occurred.
During an assault on Tan Son Nhut Airbase near Saigon on Jan. 1, 1968, Birwell’s unit was overrun and his tank commander incapacitated by an enemy attack. Under heavy enemy fire, Birdwell moved his commander to safety and returned fire at the enemy with a nearby tank.
During the subsequent firefight, he was wounded in the face and torso, but refused evacuation. He didn’t receive medical care until reinforcements arrived and he was ordered to withdraw.
Spc. 5th Class Dennis M. Fujii was the crew chief aboard a helicopter ambulance during rescue operations in Laos and Vietnam in February 1971. During a mission to evacuate seriously wounded Vietnamese military personnel, his medevac helicopter was shot down.
Despite injuries, he waved off a rescue from another helicopter and remained behind as the only American on the battlefield. Over the next 17 hours, he provided first aid to allies in the area and called in American air support to help defend the outmanned Vietnamese allies.
Army officials said he repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire in order to protect the other men.
Maj. John J. Duffy was serving as the senior advisor to the 11th Airborne Battalion, 2nd Brigade, at the time of his heroism.
In April 1972, the battalion commander was killed and the command post destroyed during an attack. Duffy was wounded twice in the fighting but refused evacuation in order to ensure other personnel could be evacuated from the area.
The next morning, during another enemy assault, Duffy was wounded a third time while attempting to call in American air strikes. Over the course of two days of fighting, he maneuvered throughout the battlefield, identifying targets for American gunships and helping to get evacuated to safety.
Not including the four new awards, 260 service members have been presented the Medal of Honor for actions in Vietnam. Of those, 174 have been awarded to soldiers.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
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